On Friendship

06 August 2020

Schools are positioned, fundamentally, as places of academic instruction. The 3 Rs are our raison d'être, and we are charged with developing young minds to tackle the challenges of the future they will inherit. From phonics and number bonds to NAPLAN, STEAM and ATARs, schools, their curricula and pedagogies are studied, analysed, politicised, programmed and re-programmed; not to mention endlessly commented upon! And yet, academic attainment is only one pillar of schools. I often wonder where, in this cacophony, can we find a moment to celebrate another of the real, elemental gifts of school - friendship?

In a happy coincidence, when I spoke to my son about pondering this theme for my newsletter piece, he pointed out that Thursday, July 30 was the United Nations International Day of Friendship!

From the UN website

Our world faces many challenges, crises and forces of division — such as poverty, violence, and human rights abuses — among many others — that undermine peace, security, development and social harmony among the world's peoples.

To confront those crises and challenges, their root causes must be addressed by promoting and defending a shared spirit of human solidarity that takes many forms — the simplest of which is friendship.

Through friendship — by accumulating bonds of camaraderie and developing strong ties of trust — we can contribute to the fundamental shifts that are urgently needed to achieve lasting stability, weave a safety net that will protect us all, and generate passion for a better world where all are united for the greater good.

True friendship is undoubtedly one of the worthiest and most rewarding of human endeavours. It is also an area where, to use the words of Rudolf Steiner (out of context), "even the wisest can learn incalculably much from children".  

In my role, I am fortunate to possess a position of great privilege, not least of which is having a 'bird's eye view' of the relationships between the young people in our care. Having worked in other schools, I reflect that the loving bonds of friendship created through the shared experience of a Glenaeon education are rare and beautiful. Friendships here are often forged over many years and with the necessity of working through challenges as they arise, due to the fact we are a small school. Glenaeon is an environment where there is intention and vision supporting strong friendships.  We model and encourage respectful interactions between all community members and team this with continuity of relationships and a cooperative rather than competitive learning environment.  Consequently, the young men and women who become Glen X, have often formed lifelong, sustaining bonds which reflect the aspiration of “promoting and defending a shared spirit of human solidarity”. 

In these uncertain and anxious times, particularly since returning from our remote learning period, being able to witness these relationships, as they evolve, has become even more poignant. When I look through a lens that sees friendship as a vital element that will ready our children to be part of creating a “better world”, I see them preparing like this:

  • A 9-year-old accepting that she's 'in', without arguing,
  • Two 10-year-old boys lying curled up like puppies, enjoying a book together, one gently stroking the other's hair,
  • A 13-year-old coming to check on her classmate in sickbay during lunchtime,
  • A 15-year-old going out of his way to ask me how my day is going,
  • A group of 18 year-olds working together on a research task; playfully but intently working through ideas and solutions.

So, belatedly, I wish you all a ‘Happy Friendship Day’!  I encourage you to both nourish this aspect of your own lives and to cherish it in the unique and the excellent educational environment you have chosen for your children; a school where friendship is noticed, valued and nurtured.  Maybe one day, we can include the importance of friendship in the often noisy discourse on education.